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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Memoriam

A long time ago I had a student.

I was a Navy instructor at a small special projects facility in a remote part of Maine.

The program was highly classified and I won’t tell you anything about it, other than to say that the personnel who passed through were a bit out of the ordinary – especially in the early days of the program. At that time, as a group, the students who attended the school  were hand selected from an already elite division of the navy and they tended to be a serious cut above the average in a number of different ways.

The program itself is long gone, lost in the dust of the Cold War, and those of us who once filled its ranks are scattered to the four winds, some are still on active duty, some left the Navy and followed other paths, some like me are retired, and some of us are dead. As group, the members of that program, were an astounding bunch of folks, some of the finest people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

Which is not to say that we didn’t get a few unusual characters.

And one of the most unusual was a young Petty Officer named Jacob Joubert.  When Jake first walked into my classroom I didn’t know what to think. Shaven headed, covered in ink, intense, brash, loudly outspoken, utterly contemptuous of idiots, and, unlike most of the folks who entered that classroom with no idea whatsoever of what they were getting themselves into, Jake wasn’t the least bit intimidated. And it didn’t take long to figure out that he was fiercely intelligent as well.

He was also an unabashed smartass.

None of those things are a good combination in a junior Petty Officer.

As such, it didn’t take long for Jake to end up on the Senior Chief’s shit-list – and that’s not a good place to be.

A couple weeks into the seven month course, I was selected for Chief and spent the next two months going through the hell that was then Chief Petty Officer Initiation – and just for added fun, the birth of my son happened at the same time (whee!). Eventually I put on my Anchors and was detached from the schoolhouse, and my wife and I headed north with a month-old baby in the back of the Jeep. Once in Alaska, I took over one of the program’s detachments as Assistant Officer in Charge.  Several months later, when it came time for Jake’s class to graduate and take orders to the field, I specifically asked for the class’s three troublemakers – including Jake – and the schoolhouse was more than happy to let me have them.  They arrived in Alaska with some of the worst evaluations I have ever seen, seriously.  All three were recommended for discharges at the earliest possible convenience to the navy – and all three turned out to be some of the finest Sailors I’ve ever had the privilege of leading.  Which is not to say they didn’t continue to cause me grief – Jake especially, who continued his habit of being a thorn in the side of the Officer in Charge and earned himself a special place in the ire of the program’s Command Master Chief (Jake came by this position honestly, something involving the Master Chief’s daughter or possibly daughters plural, and I’ll say no more about it). But truthfully, Jake and his shipmates and the members of Detachment One (later Seven) were a blast and hell of a fine bunch of folks and being their Chief was one of the best experiences of my life. 

Jake earned himself enough college credits while on active duty to be selected for the Seaman to Admiral program and he went off to the University of Utah to finish his degree … and was then selected for a full commission as a Naval Officer.  He went to sea as a Surface Warfare Officer and became one of the top officers in the fleet - and now he’s a teacher, running the NROTC program at NC State and training the next generation of navy leaders.

Pretty damned good for a smart-mouthed kid who should have been separated from naval service long ago, eh?

 

But see, Jake’s also a painter, an astoundingly talented artist.

His work has been slowly gaining recognition - and recently he’s started a project called “In Memoriam” and that has brought Jake’s art recognition at the national mainstream level.

In Memoriam is a series of huge canvasses, twelve 10x10 paintings, one for each major conflict fought by the United States military over the course of our country’s history.  The paintings are a complex pattern of marks, more than a million and half of them, one mark for every member of the US military killed in conflict.  It’s an enormous undertaking, five to six hours a day of meticulous work spread over six months.

I’d consider it a personal favor if you were to visit his site, Collaborate Unlimited, and learn more about this project and Jake himself. While there listen to the interview Jake gave to NPR last week, it won’t take you long to realize you’re listening to one of the people who make a real difference in the world around them.  Jake has set up a Facebook site where the goal is to have the page membership surpass the total number of those who have given their lives so that the rest of us may be free. I’d love it if you signed up and helped my friend Jake reach his goal.

Thanks.

14 comments:

  1. What a neat project. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I tend to ignore most groups on Facebook and am very selective of those I join. By all means am I going to join this one.

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  3. I just joined the group myself. A worthy project.

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  4. Plenty of worthless Facebook groups. But then something comes along which can actually benefit from the power of modern communications.

    Thanks, Jim, for the story and the links.

    Dr. Phil

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  5. Outstanding story and proof of what a 'diamond in the rough' is worth.

    I don't facebook.

    I WON'T facebook.

    (but this is the only thing about facebook that I've seen that is remotely worth even considering 'facebooking')

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  6. Impressive. I was scared, the way your article was running, that Jacob had died.

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  7. Wow. That's really keen.

    gueud: when it's better than gewd.

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  8. Chris, It is unlikely that anything could kill Jake.

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  9. Nick from the O.C.July 20, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    Amazing and powerful. Thanks for the referral!

    At first, I was skeptical -- "just lines," I thought. But the painting is so much more than just lines.

    Wow.

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  10. The paintings are some much more than lines, the way the image on your screen is so much more than just pixels. It's pretty damned awesome in its simplicity and starkness, the way the Vietnam memorial is - which is nothing more than names inscribed on black marble, line after line after line of names and when you stand in front of it, it somehow becomes so much more than just letters on black marble.

    Jake's work invokes in me a mental image of those military graveyards on the cliffs above Normandy beach - row after row of simple white crosses. Look at one, it means nothing, take them all together and it rends the soul.

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  11. That's beautiful. And ugly, at the same time.

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  12. Jim, first I'd like to thank you for pointing my attention to Jake's FB site. I joined, how could I not?

    Your description of Jake reminded me of a story my father used to tell me about one of his coworkers when he was stationed in the Aleutians. My father was a retired Navy EOC. He said there was a young 2nd Class Petty Officer serving under him; he told me that this young man had more leadership skills in his little pinky than all of his supervisors put together. My father continued his description by saying the only problem is that he always led his fellow sailors into trouble, but that those sailors would follow his lead anywhere! My father always summed it up by saying that he wished he had half of that guy’s ability to lead. I’ll bet Jake was this guy’s son!

    Finally I’d like to say that I was floored when I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. I did not expect to get emotional, but when I approached that long black marble wall I broke into tears. My wife kept asking me what’s wrong and I didn’t have any answer. I still don’t, but I think it has to do with the level of sacrifice made by so many when it seemed to me that so few ever appreciated it. I thank the veterans of that war for ensuring that it doesn’t happen to our current group of service men and women. I asked my father if he wanted to join my wife and I on that trip and he said no, he knew too many names on that wall. He followed that up by saying, “We don’t need more fucking memorials, we need fewer wars!” RIP Dad.

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